Theodore Dreiser

Full Name: Stuart Dybek

Date and Location of Birth
      1942 (Specific Date Unknown)
      Chicago, Illinois

Date of Location Death
      Alive and Kicking.

      Names Unknown

Married to: Caren Dybek

Stuart Dybek was born in 1942 and was raised in the southwest side of Chicago, in what would later be known as Pilsen and El Barrio, through the 1950s and 1960s. During the time he was growing up, the neighborhood was mostly inhabited by Poles, Czechs, and Hispanics (though today it is largely a Mexican-American area); the Catholic church did the job of "bridging" the ethnicities in the area together with a "remarkable lack of tension" [5], something Dybek now says "was a benevolent time." The happenings in this general area of Dybek's youth would later form the literal basis for a number of Dybek's writings. The neighborhoods were largely considered an "urban ghetto" [5]; Dybek himself was in a gang at the time, but remembers witnessing very little violence or oppression.

Dybek is a second-generation Polish-American, and remembers his childhood as being a very joyful time. He was surrounded by a large amount of other children, as a result of the post World War II baby boom, and as a result, Dybek was able to run around his neighborhood "playing baseball, hopping freights, [and] trespassing through factory grounds" [5]. His wild behavior is the result of his nickname "The Weed," which his father called him. Dybek's childhood rowdiness also extended into his schooling; as the oldest child of three, he attended Catholic School (where he was a year younger than everyone), where his wild behavior got him in a lot of trouble in a number of his classes.

Even in college Dybek remained a rather poor student, mostly as a result of his indifference towards his classes. At the time, he had one primary passion: music. For reasons which even Dybek could not explain, he was incredibly obsessed with jazz music; when he was eleven-years-old, he decided he wanted to pursue a musical instrument. He had wanted to play trumpet, but his brother ended that dream when he knocked out a piece of one of Dybek's front teeth; dejected, Dybek moved on to playing the saxophone. He took lessons, and eventually formed a band of his own, but it never went anywhere outside of a few small polka gigs. Writing was never even considered anything outside of an academic necessity until one day, while composing a piece about Africa, he had been writing about the trees being as tall as skyscrapers, which led to the line "the tree scraped skies." He was so excited about the line that he ran to find his mother, who was in the middle of vomiting from the flu, and read his composition to her as she threw up.

Dybek entered Loyola University of Chicago with the idea that he wanted to become a doctor. After a year of studying, he decided that was a mistake, and switched his major to English literature. He became intensely interested in the civil rights and antiwar movements, and after his graduation from Loyola in 1964, he became a caseworker for the Cook County Department of Public Aid for two years [5]. Soon afterwards, Dybek became disillusioned with the idea of social change, citing the idea that a job like that made him "as much a part of the problem as anything else" [5]. After this experience, teaching became Dybek's passions became teaching and writing.

Dybek is hailed as being one of the originators of using the short story as a form of writing. As far as style goes, he is considered to be a very "lyrical" writer, which can be seen as almost a direct cause of Dybek's obsession with jazz music, which he continues today, as he writes his "verses" in notebooks while listening to jazz music during his afternoons in Kalamazoo, Michigan. During night, Dybek teaches English at Western Michigan University.

The Coast of Chicago
In The Coast of Chicago, which was published in 1990, is Stuart Dybek's second collection of stories. In it, Dybek mixes seven short-short stories with seven longer short stories in an alternating fashion. When he began writing, Dybek tried to convey his stories through conventional American characters, but no matter what he did, he found that this never really worked out very well. Then, one day, Dybek began to read about a pair of Hungarian composers, Bartók and Kodály who toured the Hungarian countryside seeking Gypsy music that they could mix into their own pieces. Inspired by this, Dybek looked for a Kodály record and, from the moment he heard the record, he became inspired to write "The Palatski Man," which ended up being his first publication, and no doubt was one of the major influences for "Chopin in Winter," one of the music-centric stories in The Coast of Chicago.

Three of The Coast of Chicago's pieces received critical praise in respect to the rest of the collection: "Hot Ice," "Blight," and "Pet Milk." These three stories are based around entirely different circumstances, but all have the same essential emotions and themes in them, which Dybek manages to convey perfectly in each. All border around a kind of hopeful nostalgia that the point of view characters all have for their individual situations; whether it be the pair of Hispanic friends in "Hot Ice" who want to relive the simpler, more exciting, and happier days of their childhood by investigating an old town myth of a girl frozen in a block of ice. Even the point of view character in "Blight," who is a young child for the majority of the story, talks of his trip back to his native neighborhood years after the main events of the story occur, where the character reminisces about days past where he and his troublemaking friends (who seem to share a number of qualities from Dybek's own childhood) lived their high-octane, adventurous days.

Dybek received a large amount of critical praise for The Coast of Chicago, one quote in particular, from The Village Voice, highlights an important aspect of Dybek's style and writing though: "Irresistible… Mr. Dreiser, Mr. Farrell, Mr. Bellow, Mr. Algren, please say hello to Stuart Dybek. He's one of yours" [6]. This quote is an interesting analysis of The Coast of Chicago because a number of the writers mentioned by the quote, including Dreiser and Farrell, were primarily realists, whereas Dybek very much deviates from the realist perspective of writing. In an interview, where Dybek was questioned as to how he approaches the problem of deviating from the Chicago realistic tradition, he said:
"It's really not that great a problem, because my allegiance is always to the imagination. I think that's what a fiction writer's allegiance should be for. Even a so-called realist writer is finally not a journalist. If you want to have an allegiance to fact, then you probably ought to be working in a different genre." [7]